Apr 30

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 30, 2021

Posted on April 30, 2021 at 10:15 AM by Tiffany Marletta

ATM Warrant/Budget to be Set Monday
By Gregory T. Federspiel

At their meeting set for Monday, 5/3, the Selectmen will review the Annual Town Meeting articles and finalize the budget as we enter the final stages of preparation for the ATM, scheduled for June 21st. We will gather once again on the football field to vote on numerous budget articles and a handful of citizen petition articles.

The proposed FY22 budget has been in the development stage since last fall.  The Finance Committee has been meeting weekly throughout the winter pouring over departmental requests and fine-tuning their recommendations.  The Selectmen conduct one final review at their upcoming meeting before the proposal goes off to the printer along with the Town Annual Report.  Both will be delivered to all households a week ahead of the June 21st ATM.

Total expenditures for FY22 are slated to increase 3.48%.  However, higher capital expenditures and higher Community Preservation project expenses account for nearly half of this increase.  Factoring out these two categories total expenses are up 1.88%.  Town departmental operating expenses are slated to grow by 2.36% and the Town’s contribution to School District operating expenses are slated to grow by 3.24%.  Offsetting these increases are lower debt service payments.

For the current budget year, expenses were trimmed back (largely capital items) so that we did not have to raise the tax rate for this year.  The proposed budget for FY22 is projected to require a 1.5% tax increase.  We can do this in part by being less conservative in our projections of local receipts – vehicle excise tax, permitting fees, beach receipts, etc. Thus, we anticipate this year’s 0% tax increase to be followed by a 1.5% tax increase in FY22.

While we have not had such a vote in many years, at this year’s ATM there will be an article seeking approval to pay prior year expenses. Bills from a prior fiscal year that come in after the “books” for the fiscal year are closed require special voter approval to pay. We have two small bills totaling $1780 that require this special vote.  One is for payments to the Registry of Deeds, and the other is for tree work done in Chebacco Woods, a cost we share with Hamilton. 

In addition to the numerous votes on budgets (Town operating and capital, school appropriation, Community Preservation projects, OPEB trust contribution, etc.) we have a handful of citizen petition articles that will come before voters plus a requested article from our neighbors in Hamilton.

Hamilton seeks to relocate their road that currently goes through Manchester owned land at Gravely Pond.  The relocated road is further away from the Town’s drinking water source, a positive for us.  Old rights of way will be discontinued with a new right of way for the newly located road.   

One of the citizen petition articles relates to the 40B project proposed by SLV. This non-binding petition asks whether voters are against the project going forward and instead favor alternative projects that the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust and the Manchester Housing Authority might pursue.   

Two other petition articles seek amendments to our town bylaws.  One proposes that blasting for larger projects must follow guidelines that the Town develops and be approved by the Planning Board by a two thirds majority vote. The other amendment proposes that all large developments must have two means of access/egress. 

A fourth petition article requests that voters pass over any proposed Zoning By-law amendments at the Annual Town Meeting.  Given that no such amendments are being put forth at this ATM, the article can be “passed over” as well.

A final petition article proposes that voters express their preference for keeping dispatch operations “in-house” and that the Town does not seek public safety dispatching services through the North Shore Regional 911 Services in Middleton.  This is a non-binding vote aimed at informing the Selectmen of the wishes of the voters.

Even with a paired down list of articles, there are plenty of important decisions to make at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting.  Once the articles are finalized next week the ATM warrant will be posted on the Town’s web site and hardcopies delivered to all households in June.  More details on the articles will be given in the weeks between now and June 21st.    

Apr 27

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 23, 2021

Posted on April 27, 2021 at 8:29 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Addressing the Town’s Housing Diversity Needs
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The proposed apartment complex on Shingle Hill as a 40B project brought a spotlight on the affordable housing laws of the state and the current status of affordable housing in town.  The lack of housing diversity in Manchester, while not new, has garnered renewed attention.  And if the recent work of the Citizen’s Initiative for Manchester Affordable Housing (CIMAH) is any indication, the new focus could well result in the creation of new housing in town that provides for greater choices.

Most of the town’s 115 officially designated affordable housing is through the Manchester Housing Authority, an agency of the state.  This is just over 5% of our year-round housing (based on 2010 Census data.)  The state goal for communities is 10%. The Authority’s units, mainly at The Plains, and at Newport Park, are quite outdated and in need of renovations.  Unfortunately, the state does not prioritize the upkeep of these units.  

Back in 2016 voters approved the creation of the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust.  The Trust is tasked with the goal of expanding more community housing.  While the Trust has explored a variety of options for new affordable units, to date, they have only been able to facilitate a handful of new units.  The 12 Summer Street project, completed in the 1980’s, was the last larger successful affordable housing project completed.

One of the early accomplishments of the Trust was the completion of a housing production plan.  This document was just recently updated as it was coming to the end of its five-year lifespan.  The housing production plan identifies a number of strategies for creating more diverse housing stock.  The state allows a town “safe harbor” from 40B projects if it demonstrates adequate yearly progress towards it housing production goals. For us that means some 11 new affordable units a year.

One of the more promising projects that the Trust is pursuing is a joint effort with the Housing Authority to renovate and expand the two Housing Authority complexes in town.  While still being developed, the preliminary plans call for partnering with a private entity to recapitalize and expand the complexes while possibly creating new units at the site of the current DPW garage off Pleasant Street.  Further public discussions on this approach will be taking place in the coming months.

Of course, there is much excitement and energy devoted to CIMAH’s Powder House Hill project.  The Affordable Housing Trust, along with the Board of Selectmen, will be working with CIMAH and the North Shore CDC in advancing this project. And there could be other, similar projects based on this new model that emerge in town.

Meanwhile, SLV is proceeding with an application directly to MassHousing for a slightly scaled back version of their Shingle Hill 40B proposal.  This will be a conventional 40B with 136 units proposed.  Once we receive official word from the state that the application has been received, the Town will have 30 days (with a possible extension of 30 days) to comment on the project before the state issues a letter of applicability.  This will allow the project to proceed to the comprehensive permitting process before the ZBA.  Regardless of the comments the state receives at this stage it is most likely that the project will be allowed to proceed with the ZBA permitting process.  A decision by the ZBA is appealable to the state’s Housing Appeals Committee unless the town secures safe harbor status prior to the application being submitted to the ZBA.   

Affordable housing projects will remain front and center for the town for the foreseeable future.  This will involve efforts on many different fronts and continue to require significant time and energy to produce outcomes that are favorable to the community.   


Apr 12

From the Town Administrator's Desk - April 9, 2021

Posted on April 12, 2021 at 9:57 AM by Tiffany Marletta

40B LIP Negotiations End Without Agreement
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The LIP (Local Initiative Project) negotiations between the Board of Selectmen and SLV, the applicant for an apartment complex at Shingle Hill, have ended without an agreement.  At the Board’s public negotiation session on Tuesday, April 6, Mr. Engler of SLV concluded that it was no longer in his best interest to continue the negotiations.

The 40B project will no longer advance as a LIP.  If the developer wishes to pursue the project, he will need to seek a project eligibility letter through the state rather than as a LIP.  This conventional approach requires a separate set of procedures, including a new filing with the state and a public comment period before issuing a project eligibility letter.  Once this letter is issued the applicant applies for a Comprehensive Permit before the Zoning Board of Appeals.   

The negotiations faltered over how much autonomy the ZBA should have.  The developer proposed 157 units.  For Manchester, this is a “large project” under the rules governing 40B projects (over 6% of a town’s year-round housing units.)  Large projects by law are afforded “safe harbor” meaning that the ZBA’s decision is final with no appeal to the state’s Housing Appeals Committee.

This was a critical aspect of the Selectmen’s willingness to negotiate a LIP.  The developer was asked in the first negotiation session if he applied for a high unit count with the expectation of reducing the number.  He stated no, he was committed to the 157 units knowing that this constituted a large project.  The Selectmen started down the path of negotiations with this same understanding.

Six months later a lot has transpired.  As the developer noted, the political landscape of the community has come into much sharper focus, a nod to the considerable work of the Citizen’s Initiative for Manchester’s Affordable Housing.  The developer desired assurance that the ZBA would not exercise the safe harbor option.  But this is not an assurance the Selectmen could legally provide given the autonomy of the ZBA.

The effort by the Selectmen would have meant retaining local control; in the end the developer concluded this was not something he was willing to accept.